Best practice has long dictated that websites should be optimised to ensure they load and react as quickly as possible. However, with improved technology and blazing connectivity at our disposal, should designers now be trying to slow reaction times through the use of microinteractions?
It’s critical for us to add that we aren’t trying to downplay the importance of load times – in fact, it’s something we’ve discussed at length in the past.
A study conducted by Akamai and Forrester Research in 2009 showed that close to 50% of users expect a site to load within two seconds, and they tend to abandon their journey entirely if the site hasn’t loaded within three seconds. It has also been proven that visitors will explore less of a site if load times aren’t instantaneous.
With more and more users accessing the web via mobile, it’s imperative that sites are optimised to load quickly. In fact, it’s not just the user experience at risk, SEO is also a threat with Google and other search engines taking load times into consideration when ranking websites.
It’s true to say that page loads times are possibly the single most important element of the user experience, and rapid reaction times are now considered a given by users. In 1993, Jakob Nielsen conducted a cognitive study and reported that there are three key response limits:
- under 0.1 second gives the user a feeling of instantaneous response (the outcome feels like it was caused by the user, not the computer)
- under 1 second keeps the user’s flow of thought seamless (users sense a delay but know the computer is generating the outcome, they still feel in control of the overall experience)
- under 10 seconds generally keeps the user’s attention (though from 1 to 10 seconds users lose their thought process and wish response times were faster, it is advisable to show a progress bar to return control to the user). Over 10 seconds and you have lost their attention
Like most timeless UX studies, Nielsen’s report was based on the psychology of the human mind, and it showcased the importance of quick load times to provide users with feelings of ownership, direct causation and removing the barriers to clear cognitive flow. Faster load times were seen as the method to achieve these desired outcomes.
However, our devices are now capable of moving and reacting at speeds much faster than the human mind, and we’re seeing more microinteractions being employed as a result. These are designed to slow down transitions and help provide contextual feedback for the user. These interactions also provide the user with ownership and help them understand the traditional cause and effect.
Whilst Nielsen indicated that changes at .1 seconds appear to the human mind as instant, microinteractions tend to slow the change of state to somewhere between .2 to .5 of a second, depending on the complexity of the interaction.
Microinteractions are now seen as essential to reduce cognitive load and remove distraction for the user. Where we once chased quicker reaction times, now, by all accounts, we employ the opposite approach to achieve this outcome. Essentially, this is a lesson in ensuring you are chasing the correct goal. Should we continue to chase quicker load times, we will more than likely miss out on the intricacies found in microinteractions. By understanding the need for seamless user experiences that don’t break thought flow, we can improve upon our end goals.